Tuesday, January 29, 2013

San Juan del Sur, Aussie Day

On Friday, after Spanish school, I left rightaway to go to San Juan Del Sur. It's a small fishing village/surfing town on the southern pacific coast, nearly on the border with Costa Rica.

To get there, I would need to take the chicken bus from the market in Grenada to the market in Rivas, then transfer to SJDS. I got to the market in Grenada and learned that the next bus was to leave in over an hour so I figured that if I could walk to the main road I would be able to grab a Managua-Rivas bus instead, as there are surely more busses passing more frequently. I walked about 5k to the main road, then decided it more fun to start walking instead of waiting in the hot sun. You can flag down a chicken bus anywhere.

So I kept walking; the buses didn't run as frequently as I had hoped (apparently), but I told myself that as long as I got picked up within a hour it would be better than waiting an hour in the hot market next to the raw carné. I managed to get a ride in a pickup for about 10k, so when the bus finally passed and I could flag it down, I had entered a different price zone and paid only 30 cordobas instead of 35!

The transfer in Rivas was crazy quick, in fact, I had to jump from the camionetta in slow motion (along with a dozen locals) and run across the carretera to hop onto the next bus in motion. "Correte! Correte!"

I even got a seat on that bus...nap time!

I arrived and wandered all over town looking for Hostal Pacha Mama (the hostel where Paddy from Ometepe had gotten a job). My Lonely Planet was out of date and the hostel had moved across town to a new location since the last publication. Well, at least since the 2010 edition I pawned off Kim.

I found a hippy couple in the street and asked if they knew where the hostel is located, and they kindly offered to walk me there. They were Australian, and were both beaten up pretty bad from volcano boarding in Leon-the guy broke his arm. On the walk over they asked me if I knew it was Australia day. Turns out I had arrived in San Juan just in time for a national Australian three day drinking weekend, and about all the Aussies in central America had conclaved on the surfing town to catch waves and party. I arrived at Pacha Mama to learn that because of the holiday, the entire place was booked and every other place was likely booked as well. No worries though, as they offered me a couch at a discounted rate. Of course, they were hosting a party that night, which meant my prospects for an early night were nil. "You can sleep on the couch, but I'm afraid that you'll have to party all night," said the dutch girl at reception.

The evening was fun; we played the Australian drinking game "centurian", similar to a power hour (60 shots of beer in 60 minutes), but for 100 minutes. Playing in the background all night was the traditional Aussie radio show of the top 100 music tracks of the year. After centurian, we checked out all three bars in town, and I ended the night early with a nap on the beach, in a safe place by the hostel, and then returned when the party had died down to sleep on a cushion in the courtyard underneath the stars.

The next morning I had make-your-own pancakes and coffee  for breakfast, then joined a large group for surfing on a beach 20 minutes by pickup outside of town; Playa Madaras. Paddy let me borrow his surf board so I didn't have to rent one, and I spend the afternoon teaching myself to surf. I managed to catch quite a few waves! Fish tacos for lunch (fresh cilantro--eww) cost $8!

When we got back to town, the whole place was a buzz getting ready for the evening. Apparently, night two was to be even crazier. The night started at a hostel outside of town (the Naked Tiger) where there must have been a hundred or more backpackers, all sharing refreshments (as well as dubious powders of all sorts--not for me) and stories. By midnight, the staff was too drunk to keep serving, so they arranged shuttled back to town and everybody moved back to the bars: Iguanas, the Black Whale, and Pearl where there were now 2-300 backpackers and travelers. There was a lot of dancing and even some good live music.

The party scene isn't really for me, so I returned to Grenada the next day, meeting a lovely Norwegian girl on the bus along the way. We checked into Entre Amigos and I signed up for Spanish classes again.

More to come.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Grenada, the other other one

So I arrived in Grenada on...Saturday? That sounds about right, it's Wednesday already (though I probably won't finish writing this till tomorrow or later) so I have been here for near a week.

When I first arrived in Grenada, all I had was the name of a hostel recommended by a girl I met back in Ometepe, Hostal Entre Amigos. It was not mentioned in my guide book at all, nor Kim's Lonely Planet (which I pawned off of him for $10, he's back in Swiss by now btw) but I had just bought a Nicaraguan Sim card back in Rivas, and it happened to have come with 30 days free 3G. I googled it, and found a page on Trip Advisor. There was no address or directions that I could find, and google maps stink down here anyway, but it gave the street name and the fact that it was half a block from a firehouse. I set off asking little ladies where the street was, some said this way, some said that way. One said it was in Managa..I remembered hearing Paddy at the last hostel chatting with the girl who recommended Entre Amigos, and hearing them discuss how it was close to his hostel, The Bearded Monkey. I looked for that and found my hostel tucked behind a hand made gifts shop right next to Entre Amigos.

I checked in to this new little hostel, to find a layout not unlike my old Villa in Antigua. A brightly colored little courtyard, two covered couch areas, cable tv and tons of DVDs, lockers, free water, coffee, a decent kitchen, and full size bunk beds. All for $6 a night. No breakfast included, no restaurant/bar, and no Hammocks. That last one's a killer.

Anyway, I've been quite happy here. It's very very clean, cool, sunny/shady, and I have had good luck making friends with other guests. Cesar, the owner (?) is great, very helpful and friendly.

The folks at this hostel have been pretty great. I've made friends with two Italian girls (Gulia and Zosi), a Panamanian guy (Chris), an older Canadian (Michael), a German (Lucas), an English chef (Sean), a Portuguese guy (Joao), and a Colombian (Pipe). The European guys and I hung out together pretty much from they arrived until the time they left (which was a sad tender moment), the Colombian guy as well.

The first day they were here we went out in a big hostel pack to the mega-touristy part of town, some of us went home earlier (it was to be my first day of Spanish class), while the three European guys found a bar with a C$150 cover and an open bar. That's a good deal, but I didn't have any money after my wallet was taken. Anyway, the next day I got up at 8am and went to Spanish class until 1230pm. When I got back, they were just getting up and moving after sleeping off the previous night's party. We had a market day, and bought the necessaries for a giant vat of spaghetti bolognese. It was great all cooking together, everyone taking a job and eager to contribute. And it was cool cooking with professional chef---I have been doing some serious pondering about my own chefly desires lately...maybe on a boat?

We also all split tons of refreshments for the evening, and played cards till the early morning. Durac. Its a Russian game of some kind that the German taught us. Similar to A$$hole, but also like war, and a bit like poker, but not really like any of those, it was a great way to spent the evening...so we repeated that again the following night. And the one after that, and the next afternoon.

The second day, I made a desayuno tipico for the guys. Huevos, frijoles, plátanos maduros, and arroz. Then we cratered Volcan Masaya, a giant crater filled with secondary craters within, as well as an entire lake. The whole volcano sits within a preservation area. It was a cool view from the top too, we could see the other volcanoes all across the country, as well as Lago de Apoyo by Managua. Unfortunately, we couldn't climb the volcano, for the most part. We had to pay an entrance fee (tourist price C$150, locals C$30) that included bus transport to the lot at the top. We could, however, climb to the rim of the crater, which provided superior views. It's a very active site, so they made us wear helmets...I guess to throw at the lava if it erupted.

The bus wasn't coming, so we hitched to the town of Masaya, and got on the camionetta back to Grenada from there. That night we made a huge vat of beef stew, like the English make it: beef, potatoes, more potatoes, onions, mir poix (sp?), in a red wine reduction, plus yucca and we found a curry/cumin spice. Very heavy and very good. We drank Bravah and Flor de Caña.

Day three together, I got back from Spanish classes around 1230pm and we reheated the vat of leftover stew, reduced it and dropped in some eggs to poach in the reduction. Then Cesar, our dueño, hooked us up with an afternoon bike rental. We rode down the calzada to the lake, then south to a peninsula in Lago Nicaragua. Aas we went further and further down, it went from touristy waterfront, to country farms, until it was totally a planet apart from Grenada. We arrived at the tip to find a community centered around a covered area, encircled by cinderblock and tin structures, docks all around. Little kids peered out at us from behind trees and walls. I asked a man about renting a boat and purchasing some refreshments, and he took out his phone right away to call up a boat. For C$300, we got a nice large launcha and a driver for an hour. He piloted us around the lake and las islettas while we enjoyed some Toñas, the sun, and the company of an 11 year old local kid who was along for the ride.

Afterwards, we rode the bikes around the peninsula some more and then made our way back to the hostel. Perhaps we were riding the rental bikes a bit harder than advised; upon return we had one tangled chain, one broken seat, a destroyed rear gear set, and a broken chain lock. Instead of paying for the damage, he apologized and gave us a discount :)

That night we made a giant vat of mashed potatoes, another giant vat of crispy home fried potatoes, chicken cutlets, and stir-fried peppers and onions. I learned how to deglaze a pan to make an excellent gravy. We drank more Bravah and more Flor de Caña, and played more cards.

Day four, everyone but me left. I don't remember where the Italian girls went, but Pipe went to San Juan del Sur, and the European guys went to Leon. It would be great to hang out again in this trip, but it's always a pain to try to plan it and it never works out. Lets hope the universe has plans for us again. Meanwhile, we made one more meal together, chicken sofrito with penne, played cards until they couldn't afford to miss any other buses, then said our farewells.

I took a nap and awoke to find a new crop of dormers, however they have mostly all moved on again, after just one night.

I spent last night hanging out with a Dutch girl, raised in Spain, living in California. We went to the market this afternoon, I took care of finding some money and are about to make dinner now.

Ps. Ma, thanks for helping me out with the Western Union!

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Crossing the border, Isla de Ometepe, el Volcan Conception, monkeys, stolen wallet, arrival in Granada

Again, I'm behind in my updates, but at least im doing better than on previous trips. Lets hope I keep it fairly regular!

Let's see, where did I leave off? Ah yes, we were frantically running from playa Montezuma, Costa Rica to Moyogalpa on Isla de Ometepe, Nicaragua. We made every bus transfer perfectly. In central America you usually need to wait a few hours between public buses, as there aren't central companies and arrivals never seem to coordinate with departures, but we got lucky...that, or Costa Rica is just better with buses than the rest of the isthmus.

We made it to the border at 4:45pm and we were rushing to catch a boat from San Jorge to Moyogalpa at 5:45pm (turns out it left at 5:30). The border was fairly empty and we stamped out, ran the 1km through no man's land to stamp into Nicaragua. Along the way, a round little taxi driver (Cristiano, see pic) caught our eye and offered to get us to the boat in time for 50 bucks. I told him I'd pay 15$ to take us to San Jorge, and 20$ if he could get us to an ATM, and to the boat on time. He earned it. He hassled the customs guys to get us through faster, and then sped upwards of 140km to the nearest ATM, 20mins away. I ran to get cash, then hopped back in the car. He ran down every woman and child, bicycle, horse, and nun in the way honking his squeaky horn all through town. We skidded through the mud on the dock and literally jumped onto the boat as it was pulling away. We got there at 5:32. I was the last ferry of the day. We gave him a few extra bucks tip.

That night, Kim and I checked into Hopedaje El Central and hung out with a Canadian (Paddy), a German, and a Korean girl. Everyone, including the hostel proprietor and cook, spoke French...I made do pretty well. We had dinner at the hostel and played cards. Four of us decided to climb Volcan Conception, 1640meters. We would have to get up early to make the 12 hour hike. The German guy couldn't come as he needed to take an early bus to the border that morning.

We all bought the all-inclusive package. $20 for a guide to the top, $7.50 for three litres of water, a big chicken sandwich, a granola bar, and breakfast (eggs, toast, coffee).

Breakfast was at 6:15am, and I packed my zipoffs, raincoat, water, lunch, snacks, camera, and a bamboo walking stick that the hostel lent us. The chicken bus left the center at 6:45am and cost 10cordobas, we got to the foot of the trail and began our hike around 7:30am.

In the beginning, the guide seemed great. He spoke in a mix of Spanish and English, and pointed out a few interesting birds, plants and trees, as well as monkeys (which were really cool howlers, see the pic below). He also taught us about the local culture and economy, and the relationship between the people on the island and the volcanoes.

However, as we began to really get into the meat of the climb, a few things started to happen. Firstly, the Korean girl was really out of her depth. It's quite a strenuous, steep, slippery hike through dense jungle at the bottom, hard and fast wet winds above the treeline, and sharp, loose black volcanic rock and ash near the crater, for the last 500meters or so.

So, the guide hung back with her through the jungle, and so (though I felt for her) the rest of us didn't have the benefit of the guide, either to guide us, or to teach us about what we were seeing around us.

We waited at 1000meters, where there was a great view of the island through the clouds and dense but periodically parting clouds. Intermittently, we saw Costa Rica and Granada. On a clear day, we probably could have seen the Pacific.

When they caught up, the guide started to get annoying. First he claimed that the girl couldn't handle the climb and we had to go back. Then he claimed that the volcano was too active and we had to go back. Then he claimed it was too cloudy and it wasn't worth the hike to the top. Then, (here's the kicker) he said he didn't think we could do it. All of us wanted to continue, and we had already paid $28.50 (670cordobas!) so there was no way I wasn't going to summit that volcano.

At this point he stopped teaching us anything about the volcano or Nicaragua, he spent every break on his cell phone ( yes! There was indeed reception all the way to the crater), and he totally neglected our Korean friend, leaving to us the responsibility of taking turns hanging back with her. Plus, he kept taunting us and making comments about our climbing abilities (though we were no less than an hour ahead of schedule). Clearly he wasn't in the mood ti work. I bet he convinces a lot of groups to give up and give him a half days work for a full days pay....this was all quite annoying.

The climb, however, was great. I loved the weather, hot with a cool mist, the clouds parting intermittently to see the view. The climb was very steep above the treeline, all loose pumis, slipping out from under our feet.

On the way down, we missed the camionetta back to town, and hopped onto a pickup. That night in the hostel, I met a girl who recommended a hostel in Granada and set my sights on getting there quick to start Spanish lessons.

The next morning, we all hopped on the brightly colored ferry back to San Jorge, and enjoyedbtye breeze and view of the volcanic lake, reminiscent of Dinotopia.

Then the excitement started again. We took a taxi to the market from the ferry terminal, and somewhere in there, my wallet disappeared. I had it to pay the cab driver, then I got out of the cab and checked my pockets like always--no wallet! The taxi was driving away, so naturally I tore down the street after him screaming (in Spanish) "Stop that cab! Stop that cab!" he stopped and j explained as calmly as I could that I didn't havey wallet and I needed to check the cab.

Naturally, he took offence, as it seemed to him that I was accusing him of robbery. Actually, he gave us a great cab ride at a fair price and spent the entire cab ride dealing with my broken Spanish as I asked tons of questions. He gave me a lot of good information.

Meanwhile, a crowd was forming, as I was a bit paralyzed by panic and kept searching and re-searching the cab, explaining to him over and over, (in the hopes that if he DID take it, he would return it) that my wallet had both my bank cards and my identification. I finally decided that my wallet was lost to fate and I took his hand, looked him hard in the eyes and asked him:

"Did you take my wallet?"
"I'm not a robber."
"I need you to say it. Did you take it? Yes, or no."
"I didn't take it." (looking away)
"Look me in the eyes please."
"No, I'm not a robber." (looking me straight in the eyes, no tells)
"Are you my friend?"
"Yes."
"Ok, I trust you, sorry for the disturbance."

We shook hands hard, and he headed back to the car, but by then, we were surrounded by little ladies. They blocked his car and took my hands. They told me to wait, that it is better to tell the police, who they had already summoned. A second later there were a dozen cops and tourist police asking questions, taking information, and turning out the cab driver's pockets. We stayed there in the street for a few minutes (Kim was still with me at this point), the cops explained to me that they were sending out a search to question the other cab drivers. I guess they thought he might have passed off my wallet to another driver.

After a time, Kim and I got back into the cab with the driver and two cops, and the driver, the cops and the two of us all went to the police station, where there was more questioning and information taking.

Obviously, they discovered nothing, and eventually lets us all go. Again, I looked the driver in the eye and shook his hand. I don't know what happened to my wallet, but I think I trust he didn't take it, maybe someone else did as I was sorting out my bag on the street. Either way, I messed up. I learned a valuable lesson about protecting my valuable. I now have it all camouflaged in a pack of Marlboroughs. Hopefully, it's a little less obvious to ladrones.

I bought a phone card and called my banks, cancelled my card and ordered new ones. Have a tertiary ID and some emergency US cash in my bag. All in all, I think I fared pretty well.

Kim and I said our farewells after a week of travel together; he made his way back to San Juan, and I hopped on the bus to Granada.

More on that soon...

:)

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Playa Montezuma days 2 & 3: Waterfalls, surfing, and a beach hut.

I'm already a few days behind, so I'd better write quick to catch up, before I forget it all. On Monday when I last left off, I was heading in from the beach to have breakfast. I made a giant meal of six eggs, fried peppers, a can of beans, and two long breads. I had half of that with a banana for breakfast and wrapped up the rest for lunch. By the time I finished eating, my friend Kim from Switzerland, whom I had met previously in Monteverde, had bused in from Puntarenas. We met at my hostel and he checked in. We immediately set off on a waterfall adventure.

A short walk down the road revealed a small path labeled "cascadas". We began tobfolloe the path which quickly let to a river characterized by a valley of large boulders through which cool mountain water trickled from alpine sources. The trail simply followed the water upwards, usually defaulting in rock scrambles on the boulders through the riverbed, with the water below. When the trail was not directly on top of the river, it ran along the sleet sides. Marked by the prints of those walking in front of us, and the shiny evidence of human hands wearing down tree roots and branches for support, not much other direction was given. Occasionally, the river made way for a waterfall, and to continue the hike there was an old rope or cord hanging from a root exposed above. This indicated that we had to scale the wall of the valley to reach the pool above which was feeding the waterfall.

The pools made beautiful swimming holes with wonderfully cool, clear water. We stopped to swim at each level, cooling off in the water, climbing the rushing falls and jumping from high ledges. One fall I jumped from was about 35 feel high; that was fairly terrifying, but awesome!

Lunch was a picnic by the falls, and we made our way back down and met my friend Adam, with whom we hung out on the beach (they swam, I napped) and walked around the tiny town.

That evening, we took some time to clean up and rest before preparing dinner in the hostel: the backpacker's special, pasta with spicy beans!

I was hooked by the stars and waves the night before, so we planned to head out there again with some beers, but our 6pack was taken from the hostel fridge...not cool! I was already running very low on colones and the town had no working ATM, so that meant water for refreshments. Anyway, we had a nice night, and I fell asleep on the hammock behind the hostel on the beach.

Tuesday was simpler. Waking up early on a tip we had gotten from an English surfer, we made our way out to Playa Grande, a beach 40minutes south of town. The walk there was beautiful and upon arrival I was taken aback by the huge stretch of largely unspoiled coastline. Waves crashing on the right, dense jungle on the left, and a wide beach of soft sand in between. The beach was probably a mile long, protected by natural jettys of rock (or dead coral) on the far sides. The water seemed muddy blue/brown from the shore, but was clear and clean feeling up close. It was the perfect temperature and seemed to cycle from cool to warm and back again.

We looked for a place to rent a surfboard, as the English guy had suggested and found a stand on the beach. Not a surf shop, the shelter turned out to be a sea turtle hatchery, with a load of babies set to hatch and be released in the next few days.

Without a surf board, and with the tide still out, we tucked in for a day of swimming. By mid day, I wanted to do something with my hands, and with the abundance of sundried driftwood, digging a big hole to sit in didn't seem to do the materials justice. So, I set out to collect the materials build a hut. I don't think he really saw the point to it, so as I built, Kim hoofed it back to town to find some food and water. We expected something to be sold on the beach (gringos on the beach and no one selling beer!? Unheard of!) but there was nothing to be found.

My design plan changed a few times, and I ended up with a teepee (tipi?) structure of sun-bleached wood, shaded with palm fronds. It was great, as the midday day sun really heating up I was already becoming a roasted tomato.

I went for another swim to cool off and scrape the sand from unholy places, then clambered into my hut to nap. It was at least 10degrees cooler inside with a nice seabreeze whistling through the driftwood. I awoke to Kim sticking a surfboard in the sand that he had carried all the way back from a rental shop in town...and there was even more good news, the jerks who had taken our beers replaced them! (admittedly, I had gone around the hostel last night warning everyone to label and guard their provisions as there "may be a theif among us!"). So, we enjoyed our lunch accompanied by our rightful Imperiales and then had an afternoon of novice surfing. I stood up on the board on my second try! It's a fun sport that I will totally try again.

At one point in the day, some of the turtle hatchery volunteers (Common wealth yuppy travelers) came by to nicely praise the shade structure I had built and then asked us to take it down when we were finished, as they can deter the turtles from laying their eggs. Apparently, a few weeks ago, somebody had built a shade structure and when mamma turtle crawled up on shore, it obstructed her route to her nesting ground and she turned back to the sea, likely dumping her litter underwater. So, sadly, but with an endangered species in mind, we took down the hut and headed back to town.

We cleaned up; I showered in cold water for an eternity to lower the temperature if my skin,  slathered my raw back with aloe gel and hydrocortisone, chased with a double dose of painkillers. After an hour or so, I actually felt pretty good.

That evening I met up with Adam to watch some street performers, and chatted with a Chilean girl for a while, until I was finally ready to call it a night.

Kim and I got up at 445am this morning to make the 520am bus for the 9am boat back to Puntarenas on the mainland. There we tool an 1130am bus to Liberia and switched to a 245pm bus to the border with Nicaragua at Pinas Blancas. The plan is to get all the way to Moyogalpa on Isla de Ometepe, Nicaragua in one day. It's a crazy aggressive plan, but Kim had a time crunch, he needs to be back in San Jose to fly home to Switzerland on Saturday, 4 days from now. I was only too happy to have the motivation to get to Nicaragua already, as I'm spending too much too fast here in Costa Rica, Nicaragua should be a bit cheaper.

Well, anyway, we still have to get through the Costa Rican border, walk 1km through no-mans-land (international zone, whatever), bribe our way and get stamped into Nicaragua, then take a bus to Rivas, a bus to San Jorge, and a boat to Moyogalpa. I called ahead to a hostel, and hopefully they will save some beds.

Lets hope the line at customs is short and simple. In the meantime, Ticas love blasting their cell phone music for everyone to hear, so it's Gangnam style time..."heeeeey, sexy laday! Bam bam nam na na!"

Next time from Nicaragua!

We made it!

Update!
We actually made it to Moyagalpa!
Amazing :)

Monday, January 14, 2013

Playa Montezuma, Norwegians, Turtle

I got on the boat at 2pm yesterday and staked out a shady spot on the top deck. I was totally surprised by the ferry. Honestly, I thought it was going to be a 10foot launcha with an outboard motor. In fact, it was a very large, three deck vessel that carried cars and buses! There was even a bar and a very comfy seats with glass tables of varying heights and designs.

I started chatting with some Argentinean girls and two Norwegian girls who were talking about Playa Santa Lucia, a beach not far from Playa Montezuma. They ended up offering me a ride from the ferry terminal (they had rented a car), and after chatting about our journeys for a bit, settled in for a nap in the sun. I awoke just as we were docking at Paqera.

Driving to Montezuma was fun. The roads were scarred and potholed when paved, and dusty and bumpy when not. Ida and I made good humored fun of Marianne's attempt at navigating Costa Rican roads. We stopped at an ATM on the way.

We arrived in Montezuma and the Norwegian girls kept on to their hotel in Santa Lucia. I checked into the first hostel I could find for $10 and threw on my trunks to check out the town and the waves. Boy, was it ever hot. I don't think my shirt stayed on for more than those first five minutes. The town is small, 3 or four roads along a hillside, nothin but restaurants and little bars. Everybody here is a tourist, but mostly Costa Rican, I think, and a lot of Costa Rican rednecks too--vacationing on the cheap by camping out along the beach in tents and easy-ups.

I set out for a walk down the beach. Crushed shell down by my hostel gave way to sharp rocks and boulders, eventually turning into coves of rather fine salt and pepper sand. Jungle just 50meters from the crashing black waves.

About 15 minutes into my walk I happened upon a small crowd of people, all staring at what looked like a clump of seaweed in the sand. I nearly kept walking, but somehow it seemed familiar, so I went in for a closer look. Baby sea-turtle! Just hatched, it was making its way from its nest to the sea, and everyone seemed to know better than to help it out. It was about two inches long from the tips of its fins, another two inches from head to tail. A leathery walnut for a shell and two little leaves for fins. It's black eyes and pointy beak screaming in silent exhaustion. I watched for twenty minutes as it inched forward, side, forward, side, forward, side, all the way to the water where it was finally scooped up by the waves and pulled out to sea. Everyone applauded.

I took a shower and went to find dinner: white rice, beet salad, cabbage, beans, a few macaroni, and a chicken wing was what 3000 colones got me. I sat next to a couple from Indiana, they were between family vacations, his family last week, her family two weeks from now. We chatted about his landscaping business, storm chasing, and of course, travel.

I took a long walk down the beach after dinner--with no moon, I was glad I brought my headlamp, because it was surely dark, only the stars in the sky lit the beach. I had never seen this before; walking near the water's edge, but not so close that the waves wash up, where the sand is saturated to the point where a thin film of water sits on the ground's surface, the sky is reflected like in a mirror. It seemed as if I was walking in space, stars above, and stars below. Beautiful. I found some soft dry sand and laid down to count the stars and listen to the roar of the crashing waves.

Later on, I went back town and bumped into a friend from Monteverde, we chatted in the street with the rest of the "too cheap to go to a bar" crowd, then went to his hostel which had hammocks on the beach. After a while he went to bed, and I hung around (pun intended) listening to Spanish music drifting in the breeze.

It's been a beach morning for me so far today. I'll see some waterfalls later and Kim, the biking swiss guy, is getting into town this afternoon. 

Now I think it's time for breakfast...mmm.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Travel to Playa Montezuma

It's 1130am, and Im sitting at the snack bar of "Playa San Lucas", an artificial beach pool club at the tip of the Puntarenas peninsula. I have a few hours to kill, as I missed my boat by just a minute and the next one isn't until 2 p.m. This is a good time for an update.

Last night was fun. I stayed up until the hostel bar closed last night, chatting and playing games with the other hostelers. It's amazing how much fun you can have with stranger, and how close you can get with them in such a short time. I only stayed at that hostel for 2 nights, but in that time, we all managed to make close friends and even form a clique!

After we got back from the hike yesterday, Kim and I saved some money by finished the food we made for dinner the night before, and then I had a beer on the porch, swinging in hammock pushed by the strong dry wind. Many of the other hostelers had been there two or three nights as well, and everyone was talking about plans and where they were headed next. The Germans were headed into the center of the country for hiking on the cordiera, Baltimore was going across Laguna Arenal to La Fortuna, and Ty was headed back to Nicaragua. I had met a few fun girls ziplining that day, and they planned to stick around for a few days more. Only Kim, the Swiss guy was headed in my direction, but the lucky duck is traveling by bike, so he got to ride down the mountain and see the whole beautiful coast and bay at hos own pace, with the wind on his back. Dang, what I would have given to find a bike and join him. Anyway, I decided to meet him in Playa Montezuma, though ee were making our ways there separately. But more on that later...

Back to last nights activities. We played a new game that only the Germanic folks seemed to know. I don't remember the name, but it meant something like "bluff". We had two dice, an opaque cup, and a cover for the cup (we used a book). Play went like this: shake the dice, look at it without anyone seeing and declare the number on the dice. Your number must be higher than the number rolled before you. If you rolled a lower number, you had to bluff. It was a drinking game, so the point was to call the bluff of the person before you around the circle and make them drink. However, as in all bluffing games, if you miscalled a bluff and they were telling the truth, you had to drink. A few other rules and tricks were thrown in to make the game trickier and funnier, but that's the gist. We played for hours it seemed, then switched to BS. All in all, a fun night!

This morning I got up and had the meager hostel breakfast, then inquired about the bus to Puntarenas. Waah waaah, the bus left at 6am and the next one wasn't until 3pm. My only option was to take a taxi ($60) down the mountain and flag down a bus on the Carretera Interamericano. Or, walk the 30km down the steep, windy, unpaved road, with crazy drivers careening around every corner. So of course, I chose to walk.

Kim and I walked to the road leading down the mountain together, and said bonne chance, as he hopped on his bike and began the ride of my dreams. I lotioned up with sunblock, stocked up on granola, empanadas, and water, and began to hoof it. I didn't get 5 minutes out of town when I encountered a jeep that had passed me as I was leaving town, doors open, waiting to welcome me and offer a ride. I climbed in back behind the driver and put my backpack in the baby seat behind the driver's wife. It was a tiny little Datsun 4x4 jeep, so I was asked to hold onto the machete that previously occupied the seat I was given. I could tell instantly that these were good and trusting people.

We bumped and bounced down the rocky mountain road for an hour, dust hanging in the dry air thicker than fog.

They dropped me off at the turn in the road I needed to take to get to my destination, and the bus I needed pulled up before my friends even pulled away. 45 minutes later, I had arrived in Puntarenas. In fact, if I hadn't wanted to explore the town a bit, I would have made it to the 11am  ferry that will take me across the bay exactly on time as well. Actually, I did make it on time (my foot was on the boat!) but they wouldn't let me go without buying a proper ticket at the boleteria across the street. They were casting off and wouldn't hold the ferry for just one sunburnt gringo.

No worries, there is another ferry to Paquera in just over an hour from now. When I reach Paquera, I will travel another half hour or so by land, and check into a hostel or cabana in Playa Montezuma. In the meantime, I'll sit here in the shade, enjoy my cervesa, and watch futball with the Ticas.

Pura Vida